The late Michael Himes has a book titled Doing the Truth with Love, a phrase I’ve always loved. And I think that it is a good way of describing what Jesus consistently models in his encounters.
To be clear: Love doesn’t mean anything goes. Love doesn’t mean there is no sin. Love doesn’t mean acceptance of all behavior. And love doesn’t mean that we don’t speak and live out of our truths. But love does affect how we respond to people who have missed the mark, who have strayed from the path.
Today’s Gospel records Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. At the outset she is shocked that this Jewish man would even speak to her – a woman and a Samaritan woman at that. But something in their conversation touched her deeply and John’s Gospel tells us that she left her water jug, ran into town and started telling people about Jesus. Because of her witness, many began to believe in him.
It is the way Jesus speaks to her that matters. Imagine how she would have reacted if his opening line had been something along the lines of, “You are such a sinful woman – you have had five husbands and you are now living in sin with someone who is not your husband! Disgraceful!” How open do you think she would have been to anything else he had to say?
Instead, Jesus talks to her about his being living water, explains that the water he gives will lead to eternal life. And only after she asks for this water, does he say “Go call your husband,” and when she admits she has no husband, he tells her what he knows of her situation. He says it without rancor, without condemnation. And we see the result.
We are sometimes quick to reproach or condemn others. May we instead find ways to encourage others in a more positive fashion – to speak truth with love.
[Cross-posted from the reflection I wrote for University of St. Thomas’ Lenten Reflections]